NASA Uses Microsoft’s HoleLens to Walk on Mars and Help Astronauts on ISS!

The audience at Tandon School of Engineering MakerSpace event in Brooklyn experienced an amazing demonstration of augmented reality a week ago by visitors from the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) of NASA. In short, the people from JPL explored a 3D prototype, stepped on Mars for a walk, and dangled a rover above the audience, as reported by Space.com.

Ops Lab creative director Matthew Clausen joined hands with a JPL intern named Marijke Jorristsma, who is also a graduate student from New York University, to give the demo. Their activities meant to show how capable the Microsoft HoloLens is when it comes to research and exploration work. HoloLens is a kind of virtual reality headset that can project virtual images in the real world.

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The demonstration presenters wore the HoloLens while their virtual viewpoint was visible to the audience on a screen behind them. Their first demo was of OnSight, and the audience saw a virtual reconstruction of the surface of Mars. Researchers can use this feature to set course and targets for the Mars rover. This technology is already present at the Kennedy Space Center where visitors can get a tour of the Martian surface with Buzz Aldrin as a holographic guide in the tour.

Before the HoloLens and augmented reality tech came along, researchers used to plot Martian locations with the help of flat, long panoramas clicked by the rovers. Now, researchers can look at the Martian surface using the HoloLens and can be twice as or more accurate at determining angles and distances between specific locations on Mars. Most of the researchers found the VR headset very easy to use.

Jorritsma said, “One of the interesting things that happened when scientists first used this is that they realized they could run up a hill to get spatial awareness of the scene. So they immediately were able to start using it and thinking about it in a spatial way, as soon as they put on the devices.” To this, Clausen added,”That was kind of our first clue that things were going in the right direction.”

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Clause and Jorritsma then went on to discuss the Project Sidekick, which allows experts to give guidance to the astronauts on the International Space Station. Experts can help the astronauts in complicated procedures by watching their actions and overlaying suggestions, guidance, etc. This program wasn’t demonstrated live, but videos and photos were shared. It was proved that HoloLens guidance could reduce more than 70% of the time taken by astronauts to perform various activities on ISS.

The third demonstration was of Protospace. This application lets engineers look at detailed models of machinery and spacecraft and explore them as they’re designed. The Surface Water and Ocean Topography satellite has been designed with the help of Protospace and will launch in or around 2020 to help observe the effect of climate change on oceans.The technology has also been used to design the NASA Mars rover 2020 that will collect a sample from the surface of Mars and bring it back to Earth. The same tech has been used for designing a huge orbiter that will circle Europa, a Jupiter moon. The speakers summoned a virtual Mars 2020, as depicted on the screen, and examined it from different angles — even enlarging it and dangling it over the audience’s head.

The HoloLens’ Protospace technology has also been used to design the NASA Mars rover 2020 that will collect a sample from the surface of Mars and bring it back to Earth. The same tech has been used for designing a huge orbiter that will circle Europa, a Jupiter moon. Presenters at the demonstration last week summoned a virtual Mars 2020 rover on the screen, enlarged it, examined it from various angles, and dangled it over the audience.

Jorritsma stated, “It transforms spacecraft design, in that it allows for a group of mechanical engineers to collaboratively visualize something in a true-to-scale and embodied fashion, which is something that they could never do before, unless they spent a lot of time and money doing a 3D print. Everyone is in the room, usually, when they’re using it, and they can gesture with their hand and everyone knows what they’re talking about.” The tool really is much better than normal 2D modeling when talking about tricky projects.

Clausen went on to talk about how humanity will set foot on Mars one day, and millions of people will be able to explore the other world. He stated-

“I can’t wait for the day when we actually set foot on Mars. There’s actually not just going to be the astronaut walking around, but there will be millions of people here on Earth that are untethered from the limitations that they have, because it will be safe for them to fly above the surface and go ahead of the astronauts and actually help them gather the data.”

True. The day is not far away when the public will have such exciting technologies at their disposal at a very convenient cost and size. Soon, everybody will be able to explore new worlds and participate in researchers with the astronauts and experts. Sounds exciting!

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